Monday, December 12, 2016

Automation Can Actually Create More Jobs

Evidence shows increased productivity leads to more wealth, cheaper goods, greater spending power and ultimately, more jobs

By Christopher Mims of the WSJ.

There are four types of unemployment: seasonal, structural, frictional and cyclical.

Structural unemployment is unemployment caused by a mismatch between the skills of job seekers and the requirements of available jobs.

One example of this is when you are replaced by a machine, like bank tellers who were replaced by ATMs. Another example is when there is a fall in demand for your product, so you get laid off, like with typewriters since people now use computers. A third example is geographical, when the jobs are not in your region of the country.

But automation may not be a problem, even in the case of ATMs. Excerpts from the article:
"Since the 1970s, when automated teller machines arrived, the number of bank tellers in America has more than doubled. James Bessen, an economist who teaches at Boston University School of Law, points to that seeming paradox amid new concerns that automation is “stealing” human jobs. To the contrary, he says, jobs and automation often grow hand in hand."

"Sometimes, of course, machines really do replace humans, as in agriculture and manufacturing"

"a long trail of empirical evidence shows that the increased productivity brought about by automation and invention ultimately leads to more wealth, cheaper goods, increased consumer spending power and ultimately, more jobs.

In the case of bank tellers, the spread of ATMs meant bank branches could be smaller, and therefore, cheaper. Banks opened more branches, and in total employed more tellers, Mr. Bessen says.

Some individuals are uprooted and suffer. In 1900, 40% of U.S. workers toiled in agriculture; today, that figure is less than 2%. Manufacturing employment in industrialized countries has declined in recent decades, as fewer people make more goods. But society, on the whole, has come out ahead.
It’s true that technology alters the quality, as well as the quantity, of jobs"

[a study] "found big increases in both low-paying and high-paying jobs. There are more barbers and barkeepers. But there also are more accountants and nurses, reflecting the rising complexity of the modern economy.

Paradoxically, says Mr. Stewart, many of the fields most transformed by technology have produced the biggest increases in employment, from medicine to management consulting. “What we saw was that machines and people were highly complementary,” he says.

Such bifurcated labor markets have ill effects. Disappearing factory jobs have largely been replaced by jobs in the service sector, where highly skilled workers, like doctors and computer programmers, are paid more, while many others see to the comfort and health of the affluent. In the middle, wages have stagnated, helping spawn our current age of populism.

“The era of mass manufacturing employment in the 1960s and 1970s was a good thing,” says Dr. Autor. “It created a lot of good jobs, it needed a lot of hands and eyes, and required some skills but not an enormous skill set. The work was relatively high value added.” But, he adds, that era is for the most part behind us."

"For all the recent advances in artificial intelligence, such techniques are largely applied to narrow areas, such as recognizing images and processing speech. Humans can do all these things and more, which allows us to transition to new kinds of work."

"the problem is not “mass unemployment, it’s transitioning people from one job to another.”"

"Near the end of the 19th century, America’s agricultural states faced the prospect of mass unemployment as farms automated.

In response, they created the “high school movement,” which required everyone to stay in school until age 16. It was hugely expensive, both because of the new schools and teachers, but also because these young people could no longer work on the farm. But it better prepared workers for 20th century factory jobs"

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